Concern for Earls as Schmidt's Ireland come up short against Wales

Ireland were beaten by a physical, ferocious Welsh defence as Luke Fitzgerald was also injured.

Ireland 10

Wales 16

PAUL O’CONNELL’S FINAL game for Ireland on home soil didn’t quite go to plan, a serious-looking injury to Keith Earls somewhat overshadowing the great man’s last bow as Joe Schmidt’s side were beaten by Wales.

Keith Earls signals to the crowd as he is replaced Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ireland very nearly stole it at the death, but the hard-working Welsh defence did enough to hold Sean Cronin up over the tryline. O’Connell got a deservedly brilliant reception throughout, but will be disappointed with elements of his team’s performance.

The visitors were just about physically superior and won the breakdown contest, led by the ultra-skillful Justin Tipuric. For Schmidt, remedying the unusual lack of accuracy in that ruck area will be a priority ahead of next weekend’s visit to England.

Earls was stretchered off in a neck brace in the second half of the game, after lying motionless for some time close to one of the sidelines. Soon after, centre Luke Fitzgerald limped off, a hip problem apparently the cause of his evident pain.

There were several positives for Ireland in defeat, namely strong individual displays from the likes of the manchild Iain Henderson, fullback Rob Kearney and barreling inside centre Robbie Henshaw, though collectively there were many poor patches mixed with some good.

Leigh Halfpenny’s laser place-kicking was important for the Welsh, as he scored 11 of their points, the Welsh pack munching their way over the Irish tryline for a first-half maul try too.

The strong feeling that this encounter would be a step up in quality from the sides’ meeting in Cardiff earlier this month was confirmed within minutes as both contributed to a notable tempo, Ireland perhaps the sharper initially.

Understandable errors from a number of rusty Irishmen snuck in, however, with Richardt Strauss’ side entry at ruck time allowing Wales to open the scoring soon after Henderson had been pinged for not rolling away.

The balanced kicking technique of Halfpenny meant Wales led 3-0 after the second infringement, with 18 minutes on the clock.

Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald with George North Source: James Crombie/INPHO

More Ireland errors allowed Gatland’s side position for the opening try soon after, Strauss and Ireland’s lineout failing to click before Rob Kearney made a rare spill under a Welsh bomb.

Some lovely handling by the Welsh, Dan Biggar in particular, brought them within range, then a series of penalties against Ireland, two for collapsing mauls, eventually saw Wales’ maul trundle over from close-range, prop Gethin Jenkins the man to dot down at the rear.

Halfpenny’s conversion saw Wales 10-0 up but Johnny Sexton brought Ireland onto the scoreboard soon after, converting a 30th-minute penalty after Alun-Wyn Jones had failed to roll away in time and referee Craig Joubert punished him.

Schmidt’s men finished the half on top and deep in the Wales 22, with Sexton’s cross-field dink almost allowing Earls to gather and race in to score. The Munster wing spilled the ball, but Ireland won a penalty at the subsequent scrum.

Scrum-half Conor Murray set them haring at the Welsh line, before the imposing Henderson impressively smashed his way over from five metres out, beating the tackles of multiple defenders as he did so.

Ireland started the second half as they had left off, Dave Kearney thrusting forward before Murray found Jack McGrath running at space. However, the Welsh defence set a firm tone with their defensive response, ending with a Jenkins turnover penalty.

Schmidt’s men went close with a clever lineout peel to the front from close to the Wales tryline soon after, but replacement Sean O’Brien – otherwise impressive and impactful – was ruled by the TMO to have spilled the ball forward.

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Wales’ ongoing edge in the collisions was vital and they fired a shot in return as Jamie Roberts burst forward when Kearney lost an aerial battle near his right wing. The Welsh looked more comfortable as the game became looser too, asking questions of an Ireland defence that was forced to shift side-to-side.

Paul O'Connell Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Earls’ injury caused a lengthy delay and huge concern thereafter, although the wing did look to acknowledge the hearty support as he left the pitch. Fitzgerald joined him in exiting within minutes.

Halfpenny sent the Welsh ahead directly after Earls had left the field, punishing a failure to roll away by Ireland. He then put Gatland’s side 16-10 to the good, their eventual winning margin, with another successful shot from the tee with nine minutes left.

Ireland, bolstered by their replacements in some departments, battled hard in the closing minutes, forcing their way back to within metres and eventually being held up over the tryline as Cronin went agonisingly close to allowing them to grab a win.

In truth, the Welsh were deserving of their success as they underlined their credentials ahead of a demanding campaign in Pool A of the World Cup.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Iain Henderson

Conversions: Johnny Sexton (1 from 1)

Penalties: Johnny Sexton (1 from 1)

Wales scorers:

Tries: Gethin Jenkins

Conversions: Leigh Halfpenny (1 from 1)

Penalties: Leigh Halfpenny (3 from 3)

IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Dave Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald (Donnacha Ryan ’68), Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls (Felix Jones ’64); Johnny Sexton (Paddy Jackson ’64), Conor Murray (Eoin Reddan ’64); Jack McGrath (Dave Kilcoyne ’61), Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin ’51), Nathan White (Tahdg Furlong ’57); Iain Henderson, Paul O’Connell (capt.); Peter O’Mahony (Sean O’Brien ’52), Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip.

WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts (Hallam Amos ’61), George North; Dan Biggar (Rhys Priestland ’64), Rhys Webb (Gareth Davies); Gethin Jenkins (Paul James ’47), Ken Owens (Scott Baldwin ’54), Tomas Francis (Aaron Jarvis ’54); Bradley Davies (Luke Charteris ’54), Alun Wyn Jones (capt.) (James King ’73); Dan Lydiate (James King – blood sub ’51 to ’61), Justin Tipuric, Talupe Faletau.

Referee: Craig Joubert.

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